Wake needs extra $1M to clear backlog in social services applications
Posted January 13, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County is weeks behind in enrolling people for social services using a new state system and will need another $1 million in the coming months to help get caught up, officials said Monday.
The NC FAST system has been plagued by problems since it was rolled out in late 2012, with food stamps recipients sometimes waiting months for their benefits and county social services offices scrambling to convert files from older systems to the new one.
Liz Scott, assistant director of Wake County Human Services, told the Board of Commissioners on Monday that the problems have gotten worse since the agency started using NC FAST for Medicaid enrollment in October. The county is a month behind on recertifying people's eligibility for food stamps, Scott said, and they would be three months behind in Medicaid recertifications if the state hadn't extended deadlines for that. She said she expects the agency to be caught up with Medicaid certifications by the end of January.
"We've got people in our county going hungry because of this," Commissioner Joe Bryan said. "I'm very uncomfortable knowing we can't provide the public with the answers they need."
NC FAST was supposed to begin processing Work First welfare applications in Wake County and move all Medicaid cases to the system in February, but that has been put on hold until the backlog of cases can be cleared. Officials called those cases "more complex and interconnected" than food stamps, which could lead to more delays in the future.
To address the problem, all county social services workers are putting in eight hours of overtime every week, and the county hired 53 temporary workers to process food stamps applications and is contracting with an outside company to help process Medicaid applications. The county also has expanded its call center to handle questions and has set up dozens of self-service kiosks for clients.
The efforts have cost close to $1.1 million since the beginning of July, and the county had set aside only $1.8 million for NC FAST conversions for the fiscal year, which ends in June.
Scott said her agency likely will need another $748,000 to keep temporary workers until the backlog is cleared, as well as $375,000 to hire 25 more temporary workers to process Medicaid cases. The Medicaid program would pick up half of that cost, officials said.
"We're putting money into solving a problem we didn't create," Commissioner Paul Coble said, blaming state and federal officials for the problems with NC FAST.
The system also is having trouble linking up with the federal HealthCare.gov site, which is flagging people enrolling for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act as potential Medicaid recipients.
Commissioner Tony Gurley said the board needs to allocate the needed money to get rid of backlog. The county cannot control website or software program issues, but it can control hiring more staff to alleviate the backlog, he said.
"People who are eligible for food assistance, and through government incompetence, delays or whatever, they don't get those benefits, they have to do without," Gurley said. "The cost to all of our citizens of having people not getting the proper food or medical care is going to be a lot higher than the cost it would take just to get some of these problems caught up."